Thanksgiving and desire for ordinary time and Advent: In praise of C. S. Lewis

For several years now I’ve regarded it a happy coincidence that in my country Thanksgiving Day occurs the fourth Thursday in November.   This same Thursday happens usually to be the last Thursday in Trinity Season, which is most of what the Church sometimes calls “ordinary time” – which makes it the last Thursday before the season of Advent, the first Sunday of which is the Christian new year’s day.  As such, the national Thanksgiving Day is an ideal occasion to reflect upon blessings given us in “ordinary time” before proceeding into Advent and the new year.

This year Thanksgiving Day falls on the last possible day, November 28, which is also the eve of C. S. Lewis’s birthday.  (This November 29 would have been Lewis’s one hundred and fifteenth birthday.)  The earliest day upon which Thanksgiving Day can fall is November 22 – the day Lewis died.  (This year November 22 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death.)  The upshot is that in addition to the notable shift in the liturgical calendar which occurs alongside Thanksgiving Day, during the week of Thanksgiving I usually have C. S. Lewis on the brain even more than usual.

I give thanks for Lewis every time I read him, which is often.  I give thanks for him because he has taught me much of what I know about how to give thanks, and to Whom I give thanks.  Take, for example, this passage from Letters to Malcolm:

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun . . .

If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.[1]

Time_cslewis_coverPerhaps more than anyone else, I owe Lewis thanks for showing me the connection between thanksgiving, adoration and joy with arduous discipline and labor.  It takes work to see extraordinariness in “ordinary” time: to see a sunbeam shining through a cracked door into a dusty toolshed as a parable for the contemporary world; to see praise as inner health made audible; to see a world in a wardrobe.  Lewis never shirked the hard labor of looking at things with his eye lighted by imagination and his imagination disciplined by sense – with sense and imagination both tethered to affection.

There is more, though.  Just as every year ordinary time gives way to Advent, some day the term ends and the holidays begin.  We perceive that day by hope and faith, not yet by sight.  Here I find that Lewis trains my appetite to desire every bit as well as he trains my eye to adoration:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[2]

“Far too easily pleased.”  And yet the “displeasure” into which Lewis would train me is a thousand miles from that of the malcontented crank.  Into an age whose heroes and sages call discontent the mother of progress and Christian hope the opiate of the masses, Lewis speaks a word both sweeter and truer: as discipline produces gratitude and adoration, so gratitude and adoration whet, and do not quench, desire.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer 90-91 (Harcourt 1992)(1963).

[2] Lewis, The Weight of Glory 26 (HarperOne 2009)(1949).


Posted on November 25, 2013, in C. S. Lewis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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